A horror story for Christmas

Copyright Dr Alan Solomon, 1986-1995

When the turkey's eaten, and the mince pies and brandy are out, there's
nothing like a good horror story told around a flickering Yule fire.
This one is a true one, although I've embellished the details a bit, and
changed the names to protect the guilty. I've also changed the true,
sad ending to a happy one.

It was a dark and stormy night; it was on just such a night that Rod S.
had his Rainbow struck by lightning. I had no intention of venturing
out, but the phone rang. "Doctor, please come quickly", said a voice on
the other end. "Why?", I asked, not wishing to brave the elements, but
the voice on the other end mentioned a figure so redolent of trailing
zeros that I was convinced. I grabbed my little black diskette box, and
set out.

After a hazardous journey (London's West End is pretty hectic at this
time of year), I arrived. I was greeted by a black-garbed butler, and
was led into a room, where there were several computers and a rather
harrassed looking accountant. "We're trying to do our end-of-year
figures", he said, "but we seem to be having trouble with the computer."
"Which computer?", I asked. "This one", he said, pointing all around

I examined the things he called a computer. On closer inspection, I
could deduce what he had there. He'd started off with an IBM PC, and
that had been so useful, he'd added an AST 6-pack to put the memory up
to 640K. He then replaced the monitor with a Microvitek Cub, driven by
the Quadram Quadcolour board. For more speed, he'd added a PC Express,
and then, needing a hard disk, he'd added a XEBEC 10 Mb.

Next to this assortment, sat an XT. It too was connected to a colour
monitor (another Cub) but the card driving it was one of the better
short-slot Hercules colour cards. A PC Express made it go three times
as fast, and the OKI printer that was attached was driven by a port on
the Quadboard multifunction card.

In the next office, one could see the further development of their
ideas; an Olivetti M24 with twim floppy drives and a MegaPlus board sat
next to another M24 that had one of its floppy drives replaced by a hard
disk by Qubie; both of these were connected to a DECwriter via a black

Proudly, he showed me their Televideo network driver, linked to a 70
Megabyte hard disk. "All our PCs are connected to that", he said, "and
its all 100% IBM compatible!"

"Then what is the problem ?", I asked. "I'm not sure", he confessed,
miserably. "It doesn't seem to work properly."

"Who sold you that, then?", I asked; the classic consultants opening
gambit (only to be used when you're sure it wasn't you). He reeled off
a list of people who had sold him the different bits. "And each one
says it isn't his bit that's causing the problems".

I switched the mess on. Eagerly, he showed me how you type several
lines of cryptic garbage to start the computer going. Within ten
minutes I found that we couldn't use a CONFIG.SYS to install device
drivers, the Olivetti with one floppy would only address it as drive A,
never as B, you couldn't boot off the Olivetti's hard disk, the
DECwriter wouldn't accept Epson escape sequences, the IBM Professional
Editor wouldn't work properly on the network hard disk (I kept losing
parts of my files), there was a fault on one of the hard disks that
no-one was willing to fix (everyone claimed it was someone else's
problem), and that this was a can of worms I'd rather not get into.

"I can solve your problem", I said, "but it will cost you about 20000,
plus 20 for my time". Glumly, he regarded me. "I've heard that
before", he said. "That's how I got talked into the network. If you
can do that, you must be Father Christmas".

"Trust me", I said, and went back to the car for the tool I keep there
for emergencies like this. "Close your eyes", I said.

Ten minutes later, me and my faithful sledgehammer had solved the